Medical historian Sally Sheard reveals the heroic characters and incredible innovations that have shaped our NHS.
On 5 July 1948, for the first time anywhere in the world, healthcare in Britain became free for all. Sally Sheard looks at the highs and lows that followed the launch of the National Health Service - and describes what life was like before it. Drawing on unique archive recordings of staff, patients and politicians, including visionary NHS founders William Beveridge and Aneurin Bevan, she tells the stories behind 20 key moments in the history of the NHS.
Beginning in the 1930s, when treatments were basic and access to healthcare was determined by your ability to pay, she examines how pioneering individuals, and emergency wartime medical provision, combined to pave the way for the NHS. But funding was a problem from the start, and an epidemic of lung cancer in the 1950s forced the service to acknowledge its responsibility to not just treat disease, but prevent it.
Yet alongside the challenges came great achievements, such as the introduction of the contraceptive pill; the birth of the first IVF baby; and the successful public health campaign to halt the spread of AIDS. We hear accounts of unsung heroes and heroines such as John Charnley, inventor of the first artificial hip; Barbara Robb, who triggered a nationwide investigation into the care of the mentally ill; and Cecily Saunders, whose 'modern hospice' movement forced the NHS to care for the dying.
Tackling topics such as the role of nurses, the fight against MRSA and why health ministers rarely learn from history, this landmark series explores every aspect of the NHS, from its beginnings to the present day. Fascinating, surprising and provocative, it shines new light on Britain's best-loved institution, showing how the NHS has revolutionised the nation's health and saved lives.
Also included is Healthy Visions, a bonus 75-minutes series in which five experts set out their ideas for the future of public health in Britain.
Presented by Sally Sheard
Produced by Beth Eastwood and Deborah Cohen
Music composed and played, and 'Now is the Hour' arranged and played, by Andy Skinnard
First broadcast BBC Radio 4, 18 June-13 July 2018
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